What happens after an indecisive election result?

Published Monday, May 11, 2015

This note considers the conventions on forming a government in a scenario where no one party wins the majority of seats at a general election. It also covers the restrictions on government activity during the period between a general election and the formation of a new Government.

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The conventions on government formation have been set out by the Government in the Chapter 2 of the Cabinet Manual.  Where no party has a majority, and until a new Prime Minister is appointed by the Queen, the incumbent prime minister remains in office.  The Cabinet Manual states that the incumbent should resign if and when it becomes clear that they cannot command a majority of the House of Commons and there is a clear alternative government. 

The Manual has been subject to some criticism over a lack of clarity about the rules regarding caretaker governments (the period between a general election and the formation of a new administration).  There has also been some discussion of way in which the date that Parliament meets for the first time following an election is set should be put on a statutory basis rather than continue as a prerogative power, and whether it should be brought forward or be pushed back in the event of a hung parliament.

Under the provisions of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, Parliament was dissolved on 30 March 2015. The general election took place on 7 May 2015 and the meeting of Parliament, announced by proclamation, will take place on 18 May. The State Opening of Parliament is due to take place on 27 May.

Historical information about hung parliaments, coalition agreements and confidence and supply arrangements is available in the Library Standard Note Hung Parliaments in the twentieth centuryDetails about the operation of the 2010 Conservative - Liberal Democrat Coalition Government are set out in the Standard Note the 2010 Coalition Government at Westminster.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-7163

Author: Lucinda Maer

Topics: Constitution, Parliament

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